BY TOBY PORTER
Prime Minister’s Question Time is supposed to be the occasion when the country’s leader gets the toughest grilling of the week.
But Theresa May was put on the spot on earlier this month not by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn but by a student at Dunraven Sixth Form School in Leigham Court Road, Streatham.
And afterwards she invited her 14 inquisitors to Number 10 Downing Street to a Black History Month reception and then sent them a letter to thank them for their input.
The Prime Minister had been challenged on her visit on October 9 by a sixth form student on how police conduct stop and search.
He claimed how he had been hassled by police when with a group from minority ethnic backgrounds after seeing the officers ignore a larger and noisier group of white people.
Mrs May was talking to staff and pupils during a visit to Dunraven School in Streatham ahead of the publication of details of the Government’s Race Disparity Audit.
It revealed a disparity between white Britons and British minority ethnics’ treatment.
The audit was commissioned by the Prime Minister who is expected to challenge British institutions to “explain or change” the disparities and will hold a cabinet discussion with key stakeholders.
The student said the group of white people were being “quite unruly” as they went past the police but were ignored.
He said: “When we came up there, we got stopped and hassled and harassed and asked where we were going and asked what our business was in that area.
“It was nice to be in that area and in that place but I hope it does address certain issues which happen to arise.”
She said: “It was certainly – I said in my opening remarks it was something I saw as Home Secretary. Stop and search was one of the issues that we have made some changes about but there is still more to do in terms of working with the police on their approach.
“I was very clear, nobody should be stopped and searched on the streets of this country because of the colour of their skin but we saw that police were conducting about a quarter of their searches illegally, so now we have the best stop and search scheme in place and each police force is signing up to it and trying to change what they do but it was precisely things like that which made me think we needed to look more widely at what the experience was.”
History does not record whether she was happier with the grilling she got at Prime Minister’s Question Time that same afternoon.
Dunraven’s secondary school headteacher Jessica West said: “It was a very successful visit. The students found it very rewarding and it was exciting for us as staff, too.
“The questions from the students were taken in good spirit.
“They had been asked to give their own experience, to talk about their own journey and their place in society.
“There cannot be a better way to discuss issues in your life than with talking to the people who make those decisions.
“More surprising was the reaction of our primary pupils, who gave her a reception akin to a boy band.
“We didn’t see that coming. I am not sure the Prime Minister did, either.
“It is very important for our students, who I hope will be the next generation of leaders, to challenge, question and contribute. The election we held earlier this year had a majority for Labour but it is important to have a dialogue with different views and tolerate them. It is our duty to provide that.
“In a letter sent from the Prime Minister to the school after her visit, Mrs May said: ‘It was a pleasure to meet some of your sixth form pupils. As we prepared to launch the Race Disparity Audit, it was immensely valuable for me to hear first-hand from the students about their experiences and concerns and I was grateful for their candour and insight.”
“I understand that the Politics Society at Dunraven is extremely popular and active; if the calibre of the young people I met is any indication, that fills me with great optimism for the future of British politics.”
Other recent visitors at the school have included former Sun editor David Dinsmore, Green Party joint leader Jonathan Bartley, Labour’s Streatham MP Chuka Umunna, Shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti and former BBC political editor Nick Robinson.